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 Post subject: hunting season
Post Posted: Dec 15th, '19, 14:49    

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Dae Hyun was thirty years old, in his prime, when he joined the cast of the BL drama Hunting Season. Dae Hyun was already the top actor in Company A when he received the drama script. Initially, his secretary had kept the script from him, but upon secretly going through her ‘rejection pile’ he found this script intrigued him more than the ones she had sent his way. Dae Hyun was successful enough that he could take a risk, because even if he acted in one flop it wouldn’t affect his stature in the acting world. He had carefully built up his reputation in the field to such a height that it would be difficult to knock him down.

The drama in question would certainly be a challenge, simply because it was BL. Dae Hyun could understand his secretary’s scepticism. It was not a particularly creative plot: during a group blind date, two working men in their late twenties end up conversing with each other because not enough girls show up. They’re both embarrassed at first but get along well, moreover they discuss their dating histories and find out that they’ve had similar problems: they’ve had several girlfriends without ever having deeply loved any of them. Thus, in just one evening both the male leads form an emotional bond.

This was the script for the pilot episode. The rest of the document was a rough outline for the rest of the drama. It would continue in the same vein, with much fluff between the male leads. For instance, they would become drunk after work together, resulting in more embarrassing heart-to-hearts and clingy skinship. They would bring each other home to meet their respective families. Male Lead X, who is motherless, is told by the other male lead’s mother that she looks upon him as a son. Male Lead X’s younger sister develops a crush on Male Lead Y, and Male Lead X is unable to process himself why her feelings for his friend make him so uncomfortable.

Male Lead Y assures Male Lead X that he has no intention of dating his sister, because if it doesn’t go well, it might endanger their friendship, and he doesn’t want to lose Male Lead X’s friendship for the world. This causes Male Lead X to clamp down on his own growing feelings that go beyond friendship. Finally, Male Lead X himself decides to go on a blind date with a girl, and asks Male Lead Y to set one up for him. Male Lead Y seems more than happy to do it, cuffing his shoulder and wishing him luck, but he shows up drunk on Male Lead X’s doorstep the night before the blind date, admitting that he couldn’t bring himself to set up the date. Drunk off his ass, he kisses Male Lead X right on his doorstep, then collapses against him. Male Lead X brings him inside, lays him on the couch and tries not to think dirty thoughts while taking off Male Lead Y’s tie and belt and unbuttoning his collar to make him more comfortable. The next day, Male Lead Y doesn’t remember anything he did while drunk.

It was a frustrating plot, typical of Korean rom-coms, but just the fact that it was BL made it interesting. Dae Hyun had no doubt that the searing sexual tension between the leads, that would be kept up throughout the drama, would more than make up for the rather lacking plot. Even the casual touches and gazes between the leads would be portrayed so as to build the tension between them, and this tension would break at strategic points. That kind of strategizing seemed to have been done well by the writer, going just by the outline. There would be multiple kiss scenes, and that alone blew Dae Hyun’s mind. There had been a drama or two in the past year which had a gay subplot, for instance there was one called Love With Flaws that didn’t shy away from suggestive gay content, but this was the first full-on gay drama with as many kiss scenes as your run-of-the-mill straight drama, and it had a happy ending, too.

It would almost certainly be subject to censorship. At first glance, it seemed like more trouble than it was worth. But Dae Hyun thought it would likely be a success. A lot more women enjoyed slashy stuff than people generally thought, and they could probably be counted on to tune in. This was a first, after all. The plot didn’t matter if the audience got their fill of slashy moments and resolved sexual tension. All that was needed was for both the male leads to be attractive, and to have a sizzling chemistry. Dae Hyun had no doubts that he was attractive, himself. It was not conventional attractiveness, but it was undeniable. Therefore, thought Dae Hyun, most important for him to consider was who his co-star would be.
Dae Hyun met with his assistant, Mi Ran, the next day. When he brought out the document he’d snitched from her office yesterday and told her, “This is what I wanted to talk to you about,” she looked worried.

“Do I really need to tell you why this show is a bad idea?” she said helplessly. When Dae Hyun didn’t answer, she said, “It’s gay, and doesn’t have a stellar plot to make up for that. It’s setting itself up to flop. Now if you’d just look at one of the rom-coms I forwarded to you-”

“The target audience of those rom-coms you sent me and of BL, including this one, largely overlaps,” interrupted Dae Hyun. “Who’s the other male lead going to be?”

Mi Ran pursed her lips. “That rookie, Ro Woon. He’s mainly a model, you know.”

Dae Hyun knew. Dae Hyun had also watched Ro Woon’s recent performance in the youth romance drama Extraordinary You and had been favourably impressed. For a rookie who didn’t start out in the acting field, his performance had been praiseworthy. Hunting Season didn’t require deep acting skills, anyway; there’d be no need to do character studies. Ro Woon and Dae Hyun had to look good together, and have a hot, unbridled chemistry; that was all that was required. When Dae Hyun called up the image of Ro Woon in his mind as he remembered it, there was no doubt in his mind that they’d look good together. Ro Woon was tall enough to be on par with him, but more slender and delicate; and he was not too fair when compared to Dae Hyun. He was also deep-voiced whereas Dae Hyun additionally had a husk. Ro Woon was perfect for the role of Male Lead Y if Dae Hyun played Male Lead X. They’d certainly look good together, but Ro Woon would also have to be ready to romance a male onscreen instead of a female, as he had done so far. He had to do so without awkwardness or hesitation, else they’d have no chemistry to speak of, just bland and forced acting. Even if the rookie wanted to be professional, sometimes that wasn’t enough, and Dae Hyun couldn’t allow a blip in his acting career due to a rookie biting off more than he could chew.

“Set up a meeting with the director,” said Dae Hyun, “and make sure Ro Woon also attends.”

Mi Ran agreed with resignation.

The meeting was a success. The director, Han Moon Kyu, had been afraid he’d have to take sub-standard actors on for the roles if nobody was willing to play gay roles. Although he’d managed to sign on a promising young rookie, he thought it a lucky fluke and didn’t have high hopes for the other male lead. It was a miracle he was being allowed to film the drama at all, and a bigger miracle that it was set to air as a weekday nights drama, a prime time slot. He didn’t think his luck could stretch any further, but here was Dae Hyun, one of the most sought-after actors that was responsible for much of the prestige associated with his agency, Company A, expressing interest in the role Director Han was most worried about!

“There’s nothing I’m anxious about with regards to the role, and as for the plot, going by just the pilot I think I’m in good hands,” Dae Hyun bowed to the writer, Miss Lee, who smiled. Good networking and talking well to the right people was part of how Dae Hyun reached success. “I’m also a fan of Director Han’s previous works,” continued Dae Hyun. “It’s just that… the success of the drama would also depend on me co-operating well with my co-actor.” Dae Hyun smiled pointedly at Ro Woon.

Ro Woon, the slightly star-struck rookie, gaped at him. He hadn’t actually idolised Dae Hyun at any point, but he also wanted to appear competent, if not perfect, in front of this important, famous sunbae. Ro Woon gave him a 90-degree bow and said, “Even though I’m a rookie and have much left to learn, I will give it my all!” Director Han nodded fervently, probably misunderstanding that Dae Hyun wasn’t happy with Ro Woon as his co-star. Dae Hyun was quick to correct their misunderstandings.

“It’s not your acting skills I’m worried about, I think you’re quite skilled already and have a lot of potential,” said Dae Hyun. “But you’ve never romanced a man on screen. It’s important that the relation between our characters that we show on screen be believable, not awkward at all. It might be difficult for you to get comfortable with this role.”

Ro Woon, with a strange look on his face- a look of cowed determination- moved to sit beside Dae Hyun. Dae Hyun looked questioningly at him. Ro Woon closed his eyes a moment, took a breath, then opened them. This time the expression in his eyes was completely different. He looked at Dae Hyun with a dark, seductive gaze, wetting his lips in a split-second like a snake flitting out its forked tongue. Dae Hyun gasped inwardly- and then outwardly, too, when Ro Woon surged forward and pressed lips with him, lightly biting his lower lip for good measure.

When Ro Woon retreated, with pink-dusted ears, shining eyes and shining lips, Dae Hyun felt like his throat was all blocked up with a sudden big dumb crush. Ro Woon laughed, eyes dancing with mischief, “You needn’t worry, sunbae. I have no reservations about this sort of thing.”

Director Han’s jaw had been slackened with shock this whole time, but he got it moving and said, “Well, you’re both already totally believable behind the scenes! You’ll have no problem co-operating on set! Right, Dae Hyun?”

“...Right,” said Dae Hyun, and bowed his burning face to take a sip of his drink, hoping it would cool him down, while everyone at the table clapped. He signed the contract the next day.

The drama was a success that propelled Ro Woon to fame in relation to Dae Hyun; as Dae Hyun predicted, their chemistry was what sold the drama to viewers. Ro Woon had been shipped with his female co-star in his previous drama, but the shipping of the Hunting Season couple was on a much larger scale, to the extent that they won ‘Best Couple’ at that year’s KBS drama awards, like Nam Goong-min and Lee Junho of Chief Kim had won a few years before them- except Ro Woon and Dae Hyun were the first overtly gay kdrama couple to win the award.

A few days after this, Ro Woon and Dae Hyun came out to the public that they were dating in real life. Since they had already cultivated images of men in love with each other during the course of the drama, it did not drastically affect their images, and although there was some negative response it was negligible. Most of the response was triumphant (in the case of their shippers), supportive or else indifferent. Ro Woon was too beautiful to be dropped out of advertising gigs and Dae Hyun was too talented an actor, in any case. Both of them continued to get jobs that fit their altered images. Ro Woon didn’t have the image of the high school sweetheart anymore, but of someone who loved deeply and perfectly despite being inexperienced, while Dae Hyun, who used to alternate between action dramas, character studies and mature romance dramas, had an image not too different from before, of a sensitive, mature lover. It seemed only good things were in store for them in the future. Yet, if Dae Hyun thought back to their tragic end, he couldn’t deny that they’d been heading towards it all along.

The sets of Hunting Season were a setting not just for the romance in the drama but for the real-life romance between Dae Hyun and Ro Woon. Dae Hyun really thought it was one-sided at first. Ro Woon was more likely to be attracted only to women, thought Dae Hyun, and anyway he was too… perfect. He needed few takes, learned his lines well, rehearsed in earnest, pored over the scripts. And it wasn’t limited to professionalism. He was exceedingly warm to everyone, turning his shining eyes and sweet smile on everybody with equal generosity.

Dae Hyun found that the emotions he had to convey while acting opposite Ro Woon- love, jealousy, lust- they were all… true. He wasn’t acting. Director Han was very happy with Dae Hyun’s performance, and Dae Hyun self-consciously accepted his praise as though it really was his acting prowess shining through. It should have been Dae Hyun’s easiest acting job, because he wasn’t really acting at all. But in reality it was his most difficult acting job ever, in terms of how it emotionally drained him after each inevitable spike in emotion his scenes with Ro Woon caused in him. Dae Hyun thought, “Fuck it, I’m method acting. Not the first one to do this. Big deal.” But his feelings did feel like a big deal, no matter what he told himself.
Then, one day, Dae Hyun had had enough. It was after a scene in which his character confesses to Ro Woon’s character, in so many words. Perhaps his conviction that he couldn’t confess to Ro Woon in real life was too much for him while his character confessed to Ro Woon’s character. In any case, that was when he snapped. Later, backstage, Dae Hyun told Ro Woon, “It’s true. Everything I said back there.”

Ro Woon tilted his head, his lips puckered and pouting. It was supposed to be his curious expression, but Dae Hyun had to clear his head to avoid grabbing Ro Woon by the jaw and making out with him. “That dialogue. It was in the script, but I meant it. Not as my character to yours, but as me to you. I, Dae Hyun, love you, Ro Woon.”

Ro Woon’s eyes widened, and then he smiled softly. Dae Hyun thought it was a gentle, sweet expression at the time, but in hindsight it was a reassuring smile. Not really an answer, but an attempt to comfort. All the same, Ro Woon readily agreed to date, and readily agreed to come out, as well. Throughout the time they were dating, Ro Woon treated him with that warm generosity of his that, coming from anyone else, could have only been love. But because it was Ro Woon, not anyone else, Dae Hyun could never be sure. Dae Hyun longed to see that expression again, of mingled courage and intent to seduce that Ro Woon had worn that time they first kissed. Of course, he had been acting the part of a man seducing another man at the time, but Dae Hyun wanted Ro Woon in real life to have a real intent to seduce. Dae Hyun wanted Ro Woon to want him. Dae Hyun wanted Ro Woon to want Dae Hyun to want Ro Woon. It all made his head spin.

Ro Woon loved the sex, but he never had to seduce Dae Hyun. He never had to try. He knew Dae Hyun would come to him on his own. Ro Woon flirted, mischievously, but not as though he was being challenged, not like that first kiss. Ro Woon was romantic, in his warm sweet way. But he was never passionate. Never desperate like Dae Hyun was.

Perhaps Ro Woon became tired of Dae Hyun’s constant need to be reassured of his feelings. There were inevitable bumps in their relationship and they all had to do with Dae Hyun's insecurities. Dae Hyun had many conversations with himself, about Ro Woon’s way of loving simply being the way it was. Dae Hyun couldn’t expect Ro Woon to love one way when he loved another way. But lurking just under the surface was always the fear that Ro Woon couldn’t possibly love someone like him, after all. Ro Woon was perfect and Dae Hyun was not. Ro Woon had no insecurities, Dae Hyun had too many. Ro Woon was beautiful from head to toe, a walking angel; Dae Hyun was attractive even though he wasn’t supposed to be, a clay statue that was somehow shaped strikingly. Many would not take to Dae Hyun’s looks, understandably so, but everyone would fall for Ro Woon’s. Dae Hyun had to stop asking Ro Woon to ‘open his heart to him’, Dae Hyun had to stop asking Ro Woon how Dae Hyun was different to him that everyone else. Dae Hyun did stop, but those questions and insecurities still swirled under the surface. The only difference was that he didn’t voice them out loud anymore.

Dae Hyun decided to just accept it. That he could never know what Ro Woon really felt. He, Dae Hyun, knew what he felt for Ro Woon. That would have to be enough. Dae Hyun had to be a little less greedy, and treasure the fact that he got to be with the man he loved, got to kiss him and see him smile, even if the man he loved didn’t truly love him back.

They were walking back from the river one evening when they hurtled towards their tragic end. An accident, out of nowhere. While Ro Woon bled, Dae Hyun was afraid even to touch him or hold him in his arms, in case he made it worse. The culprit sped off, and Dae Hyun couldn’t give him a second thought because Ro Woon was bleeding away in front of his eyes. The ambulance was called, but Ro Woon bled rapidly in the meanwhile, and there was only empty highway and silent trees on either side, only a sliver of moon watching over them that dark night. Dae Hyun cried until his throat felt gravelly and he shook uncontrollably. He couldn’t believe what was happening, but he was sure it was punishment. For being so ungrateful. For loving Ro Woon and having the gall to wish he would love him back as much, despite being wholly unworthy.

“If only I could turn back time and prevent this from ever happening,” sobbed Dae Hyun, “I’d protect you better. I’d love you better, treat you like you deserve, I’d make sure this never happened. I’d do anything to turn things back… please…”

He didn’t know who he was begging; perhaps he was begging the grim reaper to let Ro Woon live, perhaps he was begging the universe to punish only him and not hurt Ro Woon to get to him. But Ro Woon seemed to think he was begging him… for what?

“Are you...sure... you want to turn things back?” Ro Woon spoke effortfully.

“Yes! Yes, of course I’m sure! It’s all I want, I’ll never ask for anything again,” cried Dae Hyun.

“No matter… what the price?”

Dae Hyun couldn’t understand Ro Woon’s questions, but he didn’t have to think hard for them; there was only one answer. “Of course.” Ro Woon did not even have to ask.

Ro Woon shut his eyes, and Dae Hyun panicked. In that moment of panic, everything turned black and shot away from him, as though it was being pulled to the end of a tunnel. He was flying backwards, darkness around him, while Ro Woon became more and more distant, at the other end of the tunnel. At one point Dae Hyun couldn’t see Ro Woon any longer. At one point the darkness swallowed him. Dae Hyun shut his eyes, and panicked.

When he opened them, he wasn’t in a tunnel anymore. He was in Mi Ran’s office, and in front of him was her ‘rejection pile’.

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